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Republic Act 10929 requires public places like hospitals, transport terminals, and government offices to provide free internet in main congregation points
Published 8:57 AM, August 03, 2017
Updated 4:41 PM, August 03, 2017
MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos can expect to gain free Internet access when they visit any public establishment in the Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act No 10929.
The new law, signed by Duterte on Wednesday, August 3, creates a “Free Internet Access Program” in all public places in the country.
The Department of Information and Communication Technology, as the lead agency, is ordered to ensure there is free internet service in the following areas:
National and local government offices
Public basic education institutions
Public hospitals, health centers, and rural health units
Public parks, plazas, libraries, and barangay reading centers
Public airports and seaports
Public transport terminals
While it would be ideal for all areas in these establishments to have Wi-Fi, the law states that, at the very least, internet should be available in main areas or rooms where internet access is expected.
These areas include:
Computer laboratories and libraries in public basic education institutions and state universities and colleges
Main lobbies, hallways of public buildings or transport terminals
Assembly points in public parks, hospitals, and health centers
The law requires that signages to indicate free Wi-Fi be placed in conspicuous parts of the area.
The DICT is tasked to make sure that each user experiences a minimum internet speed of 2 Mbps or the speed requirement indicated in the National Broadband Plan, which Duterte approved last March.
In the plan, the goal is to provide connections of at least 10 Mbps to subscribers by 2020.
DICT is also authorized to partner with the private sector to implement the Free Internet Access Program.
To provide financing for the program, the law also created the Free Pubic Internet Acces Fund to be managed by DICT. Funds for this will come from the Spectrum Users Fees collected by the National Telecommunication Commission and other sources to be identified by the Department of Budget and Management.
Providing accessible and fast internet was among President Duterte's promises in his first State of the Nation Address in 2016.
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See - http://www.rappler.com/nation/177489-duterte-signs-laws-passports-drivers-license-validity?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+Daily+wRap+Recurring&bt_ee=EGfDO5OsEYZ2D8ZQX29h0DuOyrw7+lhJyWZ6UR8ClgErrLuEfxjPgBQ3Di7hgqIz&bt_ts=1501737476064
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President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the bills extending the validity of Philippine passports and drivers' licenses.
The two laws, Republic Act No. 10928 and Republic Act No. 10930, were signed on Wednesday, August 2.
Under RA 10928, regular passports for citizens who are at least 18 years old will be valid for 10 years. The passports issued for those under 18 years old will only be valid for 5 years.
The law also states that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), as the passport issuing authority, can choose to limit passport validity to less than 10 years "whenever in the national economic interest or political stability of the country such restriction is necessary."
The DFA is instructed to issue implementing rules and regulations. The law also orders the DFA to make sure the system of passport processing is "seamless, convenient, and pro-people."
Before the law, passports were only valid for 5 years.
RA 10930, meanwhile, extends the validity of the driver's license from 3 years to 5 years, reckoned from the birthdate of the licensee. The extension does not apply to student permits.
When renewed, the driver's license, whether professional or non-professional, will be given 10 years' validity as long as the license holder did not commit any violation of the Land Transportation and Traffic Code (RA 4136) and other traffic rules and regulations.
But the new law does more than renew drivers' licenses. It also imposes stricter requirements before someone can be issued a license.
The law adds a section to the Land Transportation and Traffic Code that states that drivers' licenses are to be issued only to "deserving applicants with sufficient driving skills and knowledge on road safety and proper road courtesy."
Thus, "theoretical and practical examinations" must "sufficiently measure the competency of drivers."
Another new section states that any government employee who issues a driver's license without the necessary examinations or issues one to an undeserving applicant will be removed from his or her post.
A person who applied for a license and is found to have falsified documents, cheated in the driving test, or connived with a government officer will be fined P20,000.
Duterte identified the bills extending passports and drivers' licenses as priority bills in his first State of the Nation Address as part of efforts to remove red tape in government.
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In Philippines, Doubts About Police Raid That Killed a Mayor
By FELIPE VILLAMOR
AUG. 1, 2017
MANILA — Critics of the Philippine government are raising doubts about a weekend police operation that left 15 people dead, including a mayor accused of drug trafficking by President Rodrigo Duterte, suggesting that the bloodshed was a summary execution disguised as legitimate law enforcement.
But the police have shrugged off such criticism, saying they will continue to pursue scores of other officials Mr. Duterte has publicly identified as “narco politicians.”
Reynaldo Parojinog, the mayor of the city of Ozamiz in the southern Philippines, was killed at his home early Sunday along with his wife and five other people. The police said that Mr. Parojinog’s guards opened fire on them as they tried to enforce a search warrant, and that the seven people were killed in the ensuing firefight.
A raid at another house owned by the Parojinog family left eight others dead, according to an updated report from the police, who originally said five people had been killed there. Several people were arrested, including the mayor’s daughter, Nova Princess Parojinog-Echavez, the deputy mayor of Ozamiz, who was brought to Manila under heavy guard. She was charged with drug possession and illegal possession of firearms.
Senator Antonio Trillanes, a critic of Mr. Duterte’s crackdown on drugs, which has left thousands dead at the hands of the police or vigilantes, on Tuesday described the killings as a “rub-out.”Continue reading the main story
“It is yet another proof of how Duterte’s policy flouts human rights, due process and the rule of law and further reinforces the cases of crimes against humanity filed against him,” said Mr. Trillanes, who was involved in filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague accusing Mr. Duterte of masterminding extrajudicial killings.
“As Duterte and his police chief have forewarned, more people will die in pursuit of their drug war,” Mr. Trillanes said.
Mr. Parojinog and his daughter were among roughly 150 Philippine officials, including mayors, judges and police officers, whom Mr. Duterte accused last year of being involved in illegal narcotics, reading their names from a list on live television.
The president encouraged officials on the list to report to the national police headquarters in Manila to clear their names if they considered themselves innocent. Mr. Parojinog and his daughter did so, telling reporters at the time that their political enemies may have generated the accusations against them. The mayor said his family had actively fought crime in Ozamiz, including drug trafficking.
But the family has never denied having links to the Kuratong Baleleng organization, which began as an armed militia unit formed by the military in the late 1980s to help combat communist guerrillas, and later evolved into a criminal organization. It has been dominant in Ozamiz politics for years.
As of Tuesday, Mr. Duterte had not commented on the raids Sunday. But officials in his government have distanced him from the operation, saying it was carried out independently by the police.Photo
Rolando Espinosa Sr., left, with the national police chief, Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, after turning himself in to the authorities last year. Mr. Espinosa was later killed inside his jail cell, which the police said they had raided on suspicion that he was continuing to direct drug operations from there.CreditMark R. Cristino/European Pressphoto Agency
On Monday, Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, the chief of the Philippine National Police, appeared undaunted by questions that were beginning to emerge about the killings, saying that the police would aggressively pursue other officials on Mr. Duterte’s list. “We have begun a case buildup against them,” he said in brief remarks to reporters. “Once there is a case already, we will operate.”
It is not clear how Mr. Duterte’s list was compiled; officials in his government have said that the president has his own sources. General dela Rosa said Monday that if officials were put on the list in error, they had nothing to fear, but that if they were confirmed to be involved in drugs, “then they can prepare themselves.”
Two other mayors on Mr. Duterte’s list were gunned down by the police within weeks of each other last year. One, Rolando Espinosa Sr., was killed in his jail cell, which the police said they had raided on suspicion that he was continuing to direct drug operations from there. The police said Mr. Espinosa had pulled a gun on the officers.
Nineteen police officers were arrested in connection with Mr. Espinosa’s killing, and a Senate panel that investigated his death — along with that of another mayor, Samsudin Dimaukom, who was killed at a police checkpoint — recommended they be charged with murder.
But the Justice Department charged them with homicide, a lesser, bailable offense, and the officers were released on bail last month. Critics of that decision have noted that the Justice Department is led by a fraternity brother of Mr. Duterte.
Thousands have died in the crackdown on narcotics overseen by Mr. Duterte, many of them accused of being drug dealers and addicts, though some may have had no such involvement. Many died at the hands of unknown assailants, but many others were killed by the police in what the authorities called justified shootings but critics say they believe were deliberate killings.
The raids on Sunday came just days after Mr. Duterte vowed to continue the campaign in the face of widespread international criticism.
“I have resolved that no matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because it is the root of suffering,” he said in an address to Congress. Those involved in drug trafficking will face “either jail or hell,” he said.
Rights groups said on Tuesday that those comments encouraged a sense of impunity among the police, which Transparency International has called one of the most corrupt government agencies in a country where corruption is widespread. Such remarks from the president have an “emboldening effect that is difficult for policemen to ignore,” said Romel Bagares, a lawyer at the Center for International Law, an organization that aids families of victims of extrajudicial killings.
Mr. Bagares said that in cases where officers claim to have killed a suspect in self-defense, the police are formally required to bring the matter before a prosecutor, who determines whether there was foul play.
But in practice, that rarely happens, which “raises serious questions about the truthfulness of police accounts of these alleged shootouts between police officers and drug suspects,” said Mr. Bagares, whose group is representing a survivor of a similar police raid last August.
He said human rights groups would watch the Parojinog case closely. He noted Philippine news reports in which an employee of the Parojinog family who survived one of the raids — identified only as Cesar — described it as a summary execution by the police.
Responding to those reports on Tuesday, Dionardo Carlos, a senior superintendent and a spokesman for the national police, challenged the employee to file a sworn statement in court.
A version of this article appears in print on August 2, 2017, on Page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Duterte’s Critics Question Mayor’s Killing in Philippine Police Raid.
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There are more Asian American lawyers than ever — but not in the top ranks
California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, the author of this article, in his office in San Francisco on Jan. 13. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)
By: Goodwin Liu
Two years ago, an unusual matter came before my court: a petition for posthumous bar admission brought by the descendants of Hong Yen Chang, a native of China. Chang came to America in 1872 at age 13. He graduated from the Phillips Academy, Yale College and Columbia Law School, and passed the bar exam. But in 1890 my court denied him a law license because the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited him from becoming a citizen, then a prerequisite for bar membership. In 2015, my court admitted Chang to the bar, calling his exclusion “a grievous wrong” that denied our society “the important benefits of a diverse legal profession.”
For most of our nation’s history, Asians were excluded from the legal profession. But much has changed in recent decades. From 1985 to 2005, Asian Americans were the fastest growing minority group in the bar. Today. there are more than 50,000 Asian American lawyers, compared with 10,000 in 1990. More than 7,000 Asian Americans are now studying law, up from 2,300 in 1986.
And yet, Asian Americans have made limited progress in reaching the top ranks of the profession. Although Asian Americans are the largest minority group in big firms, they have the highest attrition rate and rank lowest in the ratio of partners to associates. Asian Americans comprise 6% of the U.S. population, but only 3% of federal judges and 2% of state judges. Three out of 94 U.S. attorneys in 2016 were Asian American; only four out of 2,437 elected district attorneys in 2014 were Asian American.
These data may partly reflect Asian Americans’ relative newcomer status and lack of seniority in the legal profession. But there are other challenges as well.Although Asian Americans are regarded as having the 'hard skills' required for competent lawyering, they are often thought to lack 'soft skills.'
A new study that a team of Yale law students and I co-authored, which included a national survey of more than 600 Asian American lawyers, found that Asian Americans identify lack of access to mentors and contacts as a primary barrier to career advancement. Notably, 95% of our survey respondents had no parent with a law degree. Law is unfamiliar terrain to many Asian American families, including mine. The first lawyer I ever met was my congressman, the late Robert T. Matsui, who sponsored me to be a page in the U.S. House of Representative. If it weren’t for Bob, I’m not sure I would have considered law or become a judge.
In addition, over half of our survey respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” experience implicit discrimination in the workplace. Some reported incidents in which colleagues or court personnel did not recognize them as lawyers. Female attorneys, in particular, reported being mistaken in court for the translator, court reporter, paralegal, client or even a client’s girlfriend.
Although Asian Americans are regarded as having the “hard skills” required for competent lawyering, they are often thought to lack “soft skills.” Our survey respondents said they are perceived as hard-working, responsible and careful, but not as empathetic, assertive or creative. Asian Americans are stereotypically the “worker bees” in law firms; many struggle in promotion processes that involve subjective criteria such as likability, gravitas and leadership potential. As one survey respondent said, “Somehow I am the only one staying back to cover the team assignments when the others went out for yoga and wine.”
Our study also found that few Asian Americans went to law school in order to gain a pathway into government or politics. Compared with other racial or ethnic groups, Asian Americans gravitate toward law firms and business settings, and they are least likely to work in government early in their careers. Few become top prosecutors, elected officials or judges.
Greater penetration into public leadership roles is critical if the growing number of Asian American attorneys is to translate into greater influence throughout society. With issues such as immigration, education, voting rights and national security in the headlines, the quality of our public policies depends on everyone having a seat at the table, including Asian Americans.
Public service is also important to dispelling the stereotype of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners. Bob Matsui was 6 months old when he and his family were incarcerated at Tule Lake as part of the internment of people with Japanese ancestry during World War II . Despite that experience, or perhaps because of it, Bob entered public service and left no doubt about the love and loyalty he felt toward his country.
There is no single way to create a more inclusive legal profession. But the first step is awareness. Asian Americans have often been neglected because of their small numbers, and monitoring progress is essential in law firms and other institutions where lawyers work.
Beyond that, senior attorneys of all ethnic groups can be more intentional in mentoring Asian American colleagues. In addition to Bob, I have been fortunate to have mentors from various backgrounds, including the two federal judges for whom I clerked. The common denominator was that they took a sustained interest in my career and were willing to use their wisdom, contacts or clout to help me.
We also have to change perceptions of the roles that Asian Americans can play in our society. Having watched countless episodes of the television series “Law & Order,” I am struck that this popular portrayal of the American justice system never seemed to cast an Asian American as an attorney or a judge. The only regular Asian American character was a forensic scientist.
It is a chicken-and-egg problem: Given societal perceptions, it is difficult for many Asian Americans to envision themselves as leaders in law; without more Asian Americans becoming leaders, it is difficult to change perceptions.
Despite these challenges, Asian Americans have made huge strides in law and they are poised for more breakthroughs. The pool of legal talent among Asian Americans has never been greater. President Obama appointed 20 Asian Americans to the federal bench — more than all the Asian Americans who had previously served as federal judges in U.S. history — and President Trump’s first successful federal appeals court nominee, Amul Thapar, is of South Asian descent.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a trailblazer in the law, once wrote: “In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.” Building the path to leadership for lawyers of all backgrounds, including Asian Americans, must be part of the unfinished work of the legal profession.
Goodwin Liu is a California Supreme Court justice.
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See - http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/176956-important-questions-abolish-pcgg-marcos-plunder
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The irony – or tragedy – is that despite overwhelming evidence against them, not one of the Marcoses and their cronies had spent a day in prison for plundering the nation
By: Philip M. Lustre Jr.
Published 5:00 PM, February 25, 2016
Updated 11:30 AM, February 27, 2016
MANILA, Philippines – The figures look staggering and impressive.
The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family, and cronies, has recovered over the last 30 years at least P170 billion (nearly $3.6 billion) in cash, despite working on an overall budget of P2.9 billion ($61 million) over the same period.
Various estimates put the total Marcos loot at between $5 billion to $10 billion, however.
The total recovery efforts could reach over P200 billion ($4.2 billion), as the PCGG winds up its task and sells the remaining illegally acquired assets in its possession and recover some more illegal assets in civil cases pending in various courts.
But it's been a period of false starts and dead ends, cloak-and-dagger operations, and, ultimately, successes, failures, and the ubiquitous feelings of frustration, helplessness, and powerless among the people tasked to do the job.
The illegal asset recovery program has been problematic, both in the way it was thought out and how it was implemented.
Following are the key concerns:
Inconsistency in strategy. Because it did not have a template to work on, the government committed various hit-and-misses in its strategy to recover Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth. This was exacerbated by changes in post-EDSA administrations.
Burden of legal processes. Anchored on the spirit of a democratic system, the recovery efforts had to adhere to strictly legal processes, that often proved cumbersome. To this day, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan is still hearing recovery cases on the properties of Marcos and his cronies.
'Doves' and 'Hawks'. Following Cory Aquino’s two executive orders on how to recover ill-gotten wealth, factions in her Cabinet shared opposing approaches to the problem. One group pushed for the immediate sequestration of ill-gotten properties and file appropriate charges in court. Another wanted to negotiate with Marcos cronies for an out-of-court settlement. One more group planned unconventional attempts to recover Marcos’ bank deposits, among them the botched “Operation Big Bird.”
Does crime pay?
The irony – or tragedy – is that not one of the Marcoses and their cronies had spent a day in prison for plundering the Filipino nation.
Despite the overwhelming pieces of evidence showing the Marcoses and their cronies' participation and complicity in the unparalleled raid of the national treasury and the subsequent transfers of their loot elsewhere, the post-Marcos administrations have hardly succeeded to bring any of them before the bar of justice.
The lesson in history seems to be that crime pays. When one steals, he has to steal big to buy his freedom. Indeed, the issue ill-gotten has yet to reach an acceptable closure after 30 years.
It is said that the post-EDSA Revolution administrations, except Corazon Aquino’s, are hardly serious in running after the plunderers. Proof: Except for the dictator, who died in 1989, the Marcoses are back in power.
Son Ferdinand Jr. is now a senator and running for vice president in the May 9 presidential polls. Daughter Imee is now the Ilocos Norte governor. Wife Imelda is a lawmaker representing Ilocos Norte's 2nd district.
They do not live on bended knees, as what scions of dictators do. They wield influence along the corridors of power. They are back with vengeance, as if to mock the restored democracy.
They are revising history, using the loot to rewrite and reinterpret what had transpired during the martial law days. (READ: Bongbong Marcos: EDSA disrupted Marcos' plans for PH)
The scuttlebutt is that the Marcos loot is so big that it would take many decades to recover them. Besides, they have successfully hidden an undetermined amount of the illegal wealth to empower them to stage a political comeback. They have done their comeback with flying colors.
Changes in strategy
For PCGG chair Richard Amurao, the government could have recovered more illicit assets had it employed what he described as the “appropriate strategies” at the beginning of the recovery program in 1986.
The inconsistency in recovery strategies triggered by changes in post-EDSA governments could have contributed to the inability to obtain more ill-gotten assets from the Marcoses and their cronies, the 41-year-old Amurao said in an interview.
“The Cory Aquino government could have been more decisive right at the very start,” Andres Bautista, Amurao’s predecessor at the PCGG and current chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said in a separate interview. It could have grabbed the bull by its horns and pursued relentlessly the recovery efforts, Bautista added.
To this day, the PCGG continues to receive tips and leads about the unknown but remaining illegal assets of the Marcoses, according to Danilo Daniel, head of the PCGG research department.
For instance, daughter Imee Marcos, now the Ilocos Norte governor, was reported 4 years ago to have links to a secret offshore trusts and an offshore company. She was listed as one of the beneficiaries of the Sintra Trust, which was formed in June 2002 in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Other beneficiaries were Imee Marcos’ adult sons with estranged husband Tomas Manotoc: Ferdinand Richard Michael Marcos Manotoc, Matthew Joseph Marcos Manotoc, and Fernando Martin Marcos Manotoc. (READ: Imee Marcos tied to secret offshore trust)
Documents showed that Imee Marcos was also a financial advisor for the Sintra Trust as well as for a company in which the Sintra Trust was a shareholder, ComCentre Corporation, which was formed in January 2002 in the BVI. The PCGG had investigated this matter, but the results of its probe have yet to be reported publicly.
Both Bautista and Amurao acknowledged that the overall recovery efforts have been anchored within the spirit and parameters of the democratic system, which the Cory Aquino government had sought to rekindle, restore, and reinvigorate immediately the EDSA Revolution.
Hence, the PCGG has largely stuck to the legal processes in their search for the hidden Marcos loot.
“Please remember that we did not have a template to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and cronies,” Amurao said. “It was a mandate imposed on us by the Filipino people in the EDSA Revolution."
In the august hall of the Senate, Rene Saguisag, then a senator, used to say that the failure to go after and jail the plunderers and cronies stemmed from the inherent weakness of the Cory Aquino government.
It was a fledgling government threatened by military mutinies and political destabilization.
“We did not even know if we would be around by tomorrow,” Saguisag said with an intense feeling of exasperation, as he recalled the government’s exercises of brinkmanship to survive the debilitating onslaughts of coups and destabilization campaigns. It was an open admission of the limitation of the first post-EDSA government that conceived and pursued the recovery efforts.
Martial law and failed promises
After declaring martial law in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos, who was first elected in 1965, ruled for another 13 years. But the promised changes did not happen. Instead, he created the following legacy:
Centralized corruption, where he earned fat under-the-table commissions from big-ticket state projects and deposited the illicit proceeds in various foreign banks, mostly in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, which serves mainly as a tax haven;
Crony capitalism, where his stable of cronies replaced the pre-martial law oligarchs, cornering fat state projects, forming monopolies in the coconut and sugar industries, obtaining special import privileges in select industries in the manufacturing sector, and grabbing monopoly contracts in the services sector, which included the waterfront; and
Unrestrained and wanton human rights violations, where tens of thousands of student activists, religious workers, and other anti-Marcos Filipinos were arrested and imprisoned without charges, released without any explanation, tortured, and summarily executed, and disappeared without any trace.
Although the first 4 or 5 years brought about sustained economic growth, Marcos ruled without mandate, triggering widespread criticism in the domestic front and the international community. He was not popularly elected beyond 1973, but held several rigged referenda to reflect ostensibly the people’s approval of his martial law regime.
Marcos, Imelda and their cronies, which constituted the martial law-sponsored new oligarchy, were behind what is plain and simple kleptocracy, or the use of power and state structures to plunder and accumulate wealth and enable them to live like kings and queens even for 20 lifetimes.
Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, the first PCGG chair, estimated their total loot at between $5 billion to $10 billion. After 30 years, the estimate stands. Even the international community accepts these figures.
1986: Game-changing revolution
The four-day EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986 was the game-changing political upheaval that led to the determination of the scope and extent of the illegal wealth the Marcoses and their cronies had acquired and stashed here and abroad.
Marcos left many documents in Malacañang and these documents revealed the paper trail of an intricate web of corruption that led to their accumulation of illicit wealth. The paper trail has led to the discovery and identification, although not all, of the illegally acquired wealth and the dynamics of corruption.
Hence, the first order of the day for the administration of President Corazon Aquino was the full documentation and recovery of the illegally acquired assets of the Marcoses and cronies, and the prevention of their dissipation and transfer to other parties.
Three days after she took her oath as president at the historic Club Filipino in San Juan, Mrs. Aquino issued Executive Order No. 1 creating the PCGG as the quasi-judicial, collegial body tasked primarily to recover the illegally acquired wealth that accumulated during the dictatorship.
It was her first official act as president. She named Salonga as chair, and Ramon Diaz, Pedro Yap, Raul Daza and Mary Concepcion Bautista as commissioners.
EO 1 signaled to the world the political will of the new government to address the problems caused by the dictatorship.
With the national coffers emptied by the toppled dictator, Mrs. Aquino was then hoping that her government could recover a respectable portion of the illegal assets to provide social services for the Filipino people.
But this did not happen overnight.
Corazon Aquino, as the first post-EDSA Revolution president, declared her government as “revolutionary,” with her exercising the executive and legislative powers until a new constitution was put in place.
Governing under the temporary “Freedom Constitution" that later gave way to the 1987 Constitution, Mrs. Aquino was a virtual dictator during those days. But she chose not to be one.
The Aquino administration did not pursue immediate confiscations of suspected illegal assets. Broadly, Mrs. Aquino, through EO 1, gave PCGG the task to recover their ill-gotten wealth and take over or sequester business enterprises and entities they owned or controlled.
EO 1 also sought to adopt safeguards to avoid any repetition of large-scale corruption under her government and institute adequate measures to prevent any backsliding.
Mrs. Aquino clarified her stand on the illegal wealth issue, when, on March 12, 1986, she issued Executive Order No. 2, which states that all claims on those illicit wealth and funds of the Marcoses and cronies should follow “the requirements of justice and due process.”
Clarifying the broad strokes of EO1, EO 2 said: “It is the position of the new democratic government that former President Marcos and his wife, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, their close relatives, subordinates, business associates, dummies, agents or nominees be afforded fair opportunity to contest these claims before appropriate Philippine authorities.”
EO 2 has led to the freezing of those assets and pieces of property of the Marcoses and cronies in the country, the prohibition of any person from transferring, conveying, encumbering or depleting or concealing those assets, and the requirement that persons holding those assets should make full disclosure to the PCGG.
Furthermore, EO 2 empowered the PCGG to make representations with foreign governments, where the illegal assets are based and appeal or request foreign governments to prevent their transfer, conveyance, encumbrance, concealment, or liquidation by the Marcoses and their ilk, pending the outcome of the investigations whether those assets were acquired by improper or illegal use of state funds.
Because of the two EOs, the PCGG had sequestered numerous assets and business enterprises suspected of being part of the illegal wealth of the Marcoses and cronies and, for business enterprises, placed fiscal agents to prevent their transfer and dissipation and ensure continuity of their operations until the settlement of the ownership issues.
Despite the marching orders, the PCGG was beset with controversies stemming from clashing views of its leaders on the implementation of the two presidential orders.
A faction believed to go all-out in the recovery efforts by sequestering those questionable assets and filing appropriate charges before the court. Constituting the hawks within the PCGG, they did not want to give any quarters to the dictator and his ilk.
But another faction felt it made better sense to negotiate with cronies for an out-of-court settlement. Court battles are messy; they take time before decisions are rendered. The prospect of out-of-court settlements, where Marcos cronies would return sizable amount of illegal assets in exchange for immunity from lawsuits, loomed as an option. (READ: Search for Marcos' wealth: Compromising with cronies)
In the end, the Cory Aquino government adhered to the two approaches.
In most instances, the PCGG has filed court charges – criminal and civil - against the Marcoses and certain cronies.
But, in other instances, the government entered into out-of-court settlements, albeit selectively, with certain cronies.
It was the best of both worlds. But Amurao noted that quite a number of those court cases remain pending in various local courts.
In hindsight, Amurao said it would have been better for the PCGG to have immediately filed forfeiture proceedings on those suspected illegally acquired assets instead of going through the circuitous route of criminal and civil suits.
“The burden of proof would have been on the Marcoses and the cronies, not on the government,” Amurao said. “In forfeiture proceedings, they would be the ones who would explain the ownership issues.”
Unconventional attempts were also conceived and considered to recover the secret Marcos bank deposits in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Vanuatu, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Monaco, Austria, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, United States, among others, and bring the funds back to the country.
Operation Big Bird, quietly conceived few months after the Marcos downfall, sought to recover the alleged $7.5 billion of secret bank deposits and assets scattered in various parts of the world. Banker Michael de Guzman was the prime mover of the scheme to withdraw the Marcos bank deposits and remit them to the Philippine government on one condition: a commission of a 20 percent from all recovered funds. (READ: What Bongbong Marcos knew of Swiss deposits)
De Guzman claimed that he had personal knowledge of those secret funds. No less than Marcos told him of those deposits when he met him in the Marcoses’ house in Honolulu in March, 1986. Marcos tapped him to withdraw their Swiss bank deposits after Swiss authorities froze their assets there.
De Guzman claimed that he met Marcos largely through the intercession of Col. Irwin Ver, son of Gen. Fabian Ver. At that time, Marcos was frantic because of the freeze order on their Swiss assets. Marcos issued the document giving him the power of attorney to withdraw those funds. He claimed to have gone to Switzerland thrice to withdraw those deposits, but he failed.
Because of his failure, de Guzman said he had decided to switch sides. He claimed to have networked with Victor Bou Dagher, a Lebanese national residing in Austria, who claimed to have connections with the European banking network. De Guzman and Dagher sought audience with retired Brig. Gen. Jose Almonte, who approved and joined the plan along with activist Charlie Avila.
Almonte later brought the scheme to Mrs. Aquino’s attention, but Salonga, in his capacity as PCGG chair, did not buy it, as he thought it could be a sting operation.
Then Solicitor General Sedfrey Ordoñez rejected it upon learning that de Guzman wanted an advance of $250 million for the operations.
Operation Big Bird did not take off. But it had succeeded to bring to the attention of the international community the unbelievable magnitude of the Marcos loot abroad.
Operation Big Bird was not the last scheme of its kind. In 1991, Operation Domino became public, as its proponent, Rainier Jacobi, an Australian national, claimed he had identified after 12 years of sleuthing the alleged Marcos gold bullions worth $13.2 billion hidden and deposited in a warehouse in Kloten Airport in Switzerland and secret Swiss bank deposits of $14 billion under the name of Irene Marcos Araneta, the youngest of the three Marcos children.
Just like de Guzman, Jacobi said he intended to work for their recovery and return on one condition: a 10 percent commission. But the PCGG did not take Jacobi seriously. It viewed de Guzman and Jacobi as a pair of treasure hunters, whose hunt could be more of a miss than a hit.
The PCGG took the country by surprise when, in 1986, it sequestered 263 firms and shareholdings of 146 other firms, and assigned a number of fiscal agents and volunteers to prevent the dissipation and transfer of resources in the sequestered firms. But the PCGG dismissed over the next two years a number of erring fiscal agents and volunteers.
The PCGG likewise took custody of the identified local Marcos assets, including the jewelry collection the Marcoses hurriedly left in Malacañang, filed the first 39 civil cases for the recovery of the Marcos assets, and recovered P157 million ($3.3 million) in cash dividends from Philippine Overseas Telecommunications Corp. (POTC) and Philcomsat, two sequestered firms.
It was also in 1986 when the PCGG, showing political will to recover Marcos assets in foreign countries, worked on two most difficult issues of the entire recovery efforts: the recovery of the Marcos bank deposits in Switzerland and the criminal prosecution of the Marcoses.
The PCGG filed with Switzerland a request for legal assistance to recover the identified Marcos Swiss deposits of $340 million at that time. In the absence of any bilateral treaty on treatment of illegal wealth deposited in Swiss banks, the PCGG relied on the provisions of the International Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters Act (IMAC) as its legal bases.
The IMAC, also called mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT), is a pact between two or more countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information mainly to enforce public laws or criminal laws.
The Swiss government froze the Marcos assets there, but it was in 1987 when the Swiss Supreme Court, in an unprecedented decision, upheld the Philippine claim on the Marcos deposits and agreed to lift the banking secrecy on these deposits. The lifting enabled the PCGG to identify other Marcos deposits, raising the total of Marcos deposits to $658 million after 25 years.
What the Swiss Supreme Court did was a breakthrough.
It was the first time that the Swiss government gave way to claims on illegal wealth of dictators. The Swiss government had reacted to widespread perceptions that the country’s banking system, enjoying iron clad guarantees for the secrecy of their deposits, had become a haven for dictators.
It was also in the turbulent 1986, when the PCGG filed criminal charges against the Marcoses in the US District Court for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or the RICO Act. It accused the Marcoses of racketeering, as they converted the Philippine government machinery into a virtual criminal organization geared to plunder the country of its resources.
The court trial involved only former first lady Imelda Marcos; husband Ferdinand died in 1989. It had its drama, but the jury acquitted her in 1992 in what was a major setback for the recovery efforts. Her acquittal enabled the exiled former first lady to return to the country.
The PCGG likewise secured in 1986 from the New Jersey Supreme Court the award of titles to two Marcos assets in New Jersey: the Princeton Pike property, which the PCGG sold in 1987 for an amount equivalent to P34.6 million (around $727,000), and the Pendleton Drive property.
Moreover, the PCGG filed a $200 million claim in 1986 on four New York buildings that constituted the hidden assets of the Marcoses there: Crown Building; Herald Center on the 34th and 6th Avenues; 200 Madison Avenue; and 40 Wall Street on the 57th and 5th Avenues. The New York City Federal Court responded by freezing those four New York assets.
The PCGG found out quite belatedly that the four New York buildings were heavily mortgaged. When sold to private parties, the proceeds the government received were quite measly when compared to the original claim of $200 million. The Herald Center was sold in 1989 for $25 million, but only $1.5 million went to the government due to heavy mortgages.
The 40 Wall Street (Trump Building) property was sold in 1989 in a foreclosure sale of $3.25 million. The Crown Building was sold in 1991 for $93.6 million, but only $769,852 went back to the government because of heavy mortgages.
The PCGG recovered only $189,149 from the sale of 200 Madison Avenue property. The PCGG received the equivalent of P58.3 million ($1.2 million) from the sale of Olympic Tower, a New York property, which was not included in the original list of 4 New York assets. – Rappler.com
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"x x x.
Doctors increasingly face charges for patient overdoses
By Michael Nedelman, CNN
Updated 0919 GMT (1719 HKT) July 31, 2017
Why are opioids so addictive? 01:09
Between 2011 and 2016, the number of doctors punished by the DEA jumped more than five times
One challenge is whether and how to wean some patients off long-term opioids for chronic pain
(CNN) Doctors are increasingly being held accountable -- some even facing murder charges -- when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed.
A Texas doctor faces charges of illegally distributing these drugs in connection with at least seven deaths, according to an indictment that was unsealed this month.
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Weeks prior, a doctor in Oklahoma was charged with five counts of second-degree murder for prescribing "horrifyingly excessive amounts" of potent drugs, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement.
In 2015, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng became the first doctor to be convicted of murder for overprescribing painkillers. She was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison by a Los Angeles judge.
The number of doctors penalized by the US Drug Enforcement Administration has grown more than fivefold in recent years. The agency took action against 88 doctors in 2011 and 479 in 2016, according to an analysis of the National Practitioner Data Bank by Tony Yang, an associate professor of health administration and policy at George Mason University. Many other doctors have been sued in civil suits.
While high-profile cases against doctors have brought yet another spotlight to the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic, experts say this is rare and overlooks the bigger picture.
"The well-meaning doctors and dentists are the bigger part of our problem," said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, an advocacy and education group."They're inadvertently getting patients addicted, and they're also stocking homes with a highly addictive drugs."
Once a wonder drug
"In the late '80s, early '90s, we were all told that we were too cautious and we were not appropriately treating patients' pain," said Sur, a professor of family medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
At the same time, pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed opioids to doctors, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in an open letter last year.
Doctors were taught that these medications were not addictive if patients were in "legitimate pain," he said. Multiple studies have shown this to be false.
"That was a quote I heard regularly," said Sur, who has testified in cases in which doctors are accused of recklessly prescribing opioids.
More and more, Sur sees other doctors referring risky patients to pain specialists who might be better equipped to offer alternative treatments, screen for addiction and, when necessary, prescribe opioids safely.
The fear, she said, "is not just strictly about being sued; it's about harming somebody."
These doctors might be looking for pain specialists like Dr. Kimberly Curseen, a palliative care doctor at Emory Healthcare who works largely with cancer patients. But even she is acutely aware of the legal precedent being set against doctors.
"Personally, it's very frightening ... when you're working with medications that are receiving this type of scrutiny," Curseen said.
But she said it's a risk that many doctors accept to help patients in need.
"This is the profession that we chose," she said.
Scope of the problem
In 2010, doctors wrote enough prescriptions for hydrocodone to give every American adult a one-month supply, according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In general, prescription opioid abusers tend to get pills from family and friends for free. Those at the greatest risk of overdosing, however, are more likely to get the drugs through their own doctor's prescription, according to the CDC.
Another study last year found that 91% of overdose survivors were still able to get another prescription for opioids.
Some doctors may be more willing to write an opioid script than others. One study found that some emergency physicians were three times more likely to do so than other doctors at the same hospital. And their patients were more likely to be long-term users, too.
But some researchers have pushed back against the idea that a small number of doctors are responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Last year, researchers at Stanford argued that "opioid prescribing is no more skewed than other prescribing." On one hand, opioid prescriptions are concentrated among specialties like pain management and anesthesiology. These specialties have been well represented in DEA cases.
But looking more broadly, a greater number of opioid prescriptions were written by general practitioners, such as family doctors, who see far more patients overall.
Not all patients have access to pain specialists and comprehensive care in the first place, said Dr. Keith Humphreys, one of the authors of that paper and a professor of psychiatry at Stanford School of Medicine.
"There's just not that many pain medicine specialists. They can't drive national prescribing patterns," said Humphreys, also a former White House drug policy adviser under Presidents Bush and Obama.
Humphreys described criminal cases against doctors as "rare." Many doctors see these cases as outliers, which may also involve allegations of fraud, poor record-keeping and other misconduct.
But a number of doctors claim to have been falsely accused, and some of their investigations have ended in acquittals, dismissals or no charges at all.
CNN reported on the DEA investigation of Dr. Lynn Webster -- a pain specialist who was considered an expert in safely prescribing opioids -- after a string of patient deaths. In 2010, a handful of DEA agents raided his clinic, occupying "every corner of every room," he told CNN.
The investigation lasted several years, but no charges were ever brought against him.
"It's kind of like a scarlet letter that I will always carry with me," Webster said.
"An investigation can be life-altering, but it can be career-ending."
The DEA has been putting more resources into investigating doctors and addressing the opioid crisis in general, according to Melvin Patterson, a DEA spokesman and agent of more than 20 years. For example, in 2015 the agency started rolling out its "360 Strategy," a program that educates doctors as part of a larger effort to fight illicit drug use in various pilot cities.
Patterson, who has investigated opioid cases involving doctors, said the DEA has made the drug epidemic a priority in recent years. He said it is much easier to push these investigations forward than before.
"There was a reluctance to really prosecute doctors" early in his career, he said.
"That's being prosecuted all over the country right now. That's how far we've come."
But Patterson said that doctors shouldn't fear prescribing opioids if they're checking all the boxes. These investigations, widespread as they might be, represent a "small percentage" of doctors, he said.
"When a doctor is acting responsibly ... opioids are one of the best things they could have to treat pain," he said. "But when it's irresponsible -- in other words, a doctor hasn't even examined the patients, and they're prescribing them -- that's what's killing people."
Webster believes that "this is simply an approach to try to address the opioid crisis through legal channels" and continues to research pain therapies. He is vice president of scientific affairs at PRA Health Sciences, a company that conducts clinical research on a variety of therapeutic drugs, including opioids and opioid alternatives to pain
Webster, who has spoken in defense of other doctors in criminal cases, said that colleagues were "stunned" that this could happen to him.
"He's respected in our field," said Dr. Steven Stanos, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, of which Webster was past president.
Beyond legal concerns, Stanos said, doctors are acutely aware of a rising opioid death toll and powerful synthetic drugs hitting the streets, like fentanyl. Stanos said doctors are becoming "more worried" about prescribing opioids -- but that worry, he said, is not necessarily a bad thing.
"They should be careful, and opioids aren't for every patient," Stanos said. "Opioids are just a small part of (pain) management."
Doctors have been coming up with ways to avoid being put under the microscope themselves: by documenting their appointments meticulously, by following guidelines and by checking statewide prescription drug databases before taking out their pens.
Many doctors even have formal "agreements" with their patients, Stanos said.
This may involve taking occasional urine samples to check for other drugs.
But experts like Stanos have had to solve another looming question: What about all the patients who were put on high-dose opioids in the past?
In the aftermath of cases involving doctors, some patients might be drug-dependent and have nowhere to go. Many face severe withdrawal symptoms and a heightened sensitivity to pain, a condition called hyperalgesia, Kolodny said. If those patients get their hands on opioids later on, they are more likely to overdose, having lost their tolerance.
Stanos, who is also the medical director of Swedish Pain Services in Seattle, has absorbed patients when nearby clinics have closed.
"We took over a number of patients that were in clinics where ... I don't agree with what was done with them," Stanos said. "Those patients are at high risk."
Stanos said doctors who receive cases like these can learn a lot from the Veterans Health Administration, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Early on, the health care system heavily pushed opioid painkillers as part of its pain management approach. But over much of the past decade, the VA revamped its approach to pain, offering a wider variety of pain services and addiction treatment programs.
The impact of these measures -- including the 2013 rollout of the VA's Opioid Safety Initiative -- was a major cut in the number of opioids it prescribed.
"You could call it a U-turn," Kolodny said.
"The (VA) had one of the earliest and worst guidelines on opioid prescribing that I've ever seen," he added. "And in 2017, they put out the most conservative guideline that's ever been made to date -- which is, I think, a very good guideline."
But many veterans on high-dose painkillers suddenly had to cut down medications that their bodies were dependent on.
"If you are getting a patient who's been put on chronic opioids, even though they never should've been started on it, that doesn't mean you should force them to come off rapidly," Kolodny said.
Last week, a VA-funded study found that tapering down painkillers improves quality of life for chronic pain patients. Experts say that research and guidelines on opioid use for chronic pain is otherwise lacking and that the evidence is much clearer for short-term uses -- for example, after a major surgery.
Stanos said that the VA's interdisciplinary approach to pain has changed the field but that many unaffiliated doctors aren't able to offer the same array of alternative treatments and programs.
The VA "had to deal with this even sooner than the commercial payors, Medicare and Medicaid." Stanos said. "Now, they have some of the strongest treatment centers."
It's not just doctors who have been facing legal action for the opioid epidemic. A number of states have filed suit against pharmaceutical companies for their roles in the opioid epidemic.
Even some pharmacy chains -- like Walmart, CVS and Walgreens -- have been named in lawsuits and investigations.
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill announced on Thursday that she was expanding her opioid investigation,which focuses on the relationship between prescription drugs and the opioid epidemic. She is requesting documents from opioid distributors, which were not previously part of the investigation, and she has also added new pharmaceutical companies to the mix.
But many physicians and advocates want to focus on the doctor's office in order to protect patients at risk.
"If we're ever going to bring (the opioid epidemic) to an end ... we need these folks to prescribe much more cautiously," Kolodny said. "If you can get your patients off of opiates, that should be the goal."
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See - https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/08/02/its-a-grave-mistake-for-trump-to-cut-legal-immigration-in-half/?utm_term=.8908a4274afc
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It’s a ‘grave mistake’ for Trump to cut legal immigration in half
By Heather Long
The Washington Post
President Trump announced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act on Aug. 2, which aims to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards granted per year. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Trump endorsed a steep cut in legal immigration on Wednesday. Economists say that's a “grave mistake.”
A Washington Post survey of 18 economists in July found that 89 percent believe it's a terrible idea for Trump to curb immigration to the United States. Experts overwhelmingly predict it would slow growth — the exact opposite of what Trump wants to do with “MAGAnomics.”
“Restricting immigration will only condemn us to chronically low rates of economic growth,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. “It also increases the risk of a recession.”
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly told illegal immigrants to “get out.” Now he wants to cut back on legal immigration as well. On Wednesday, Trump stood side-by-side with Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) to endorse their bill, the RAISE Act. The bill does two things: It moves the United States toward a "skills-based immigration system" where people with special skills get top priority and it cuts legal immigration by 50 percent.
Play Video 0:57
Miller: Trump seeks a 'permanent change' to immigration system
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller spoke about the president's proposal to reduce immigration at the daily press briefing on Aug. 2. (Reuters)
"This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families," Trump said Wednesday. He believes immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- take jobs from Americans, even though the jobless rate in the country is incredibly low.
Many economists and business leaders endorse the skills-based approach. Canada and Australia, among other countries, use this method. But there's heavy criticism for the RAISE Act's plan to slash the number of green cards from 1 million a year to 500,000 over the next decade. In the first year alone, the bill cuts the number of green cards by 41 percent.
“We need to modernize the immigration system, but cutting immigration in half is bad for the economy and bad policy,” says Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a coalition founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to improve U.S. immigration policy.
Robbins points out that Canada and Australia — the supposed models for the Trump administration's reforms — both let in more than double the number of immigrants per capita than the United States does. There are also concerns that such a dramatic cut to legal immigration would cause illegal immigration to rise.
Cotton introduced the RAISE Act in February. It wasn't expected to go far given the crowded to-do list for Congress this year, but Trump's news conference Wednesday is giving it new life.
In April, over 1,400 economists from across the political spectrum sent a letter to Trump urging him not to cut immigration. The letter said there was “near universal agreement” on the “the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring.” Thomas Simons, senior economist at Jefferies investment firm, said a 50 percent reduction would be “absolutely harmful to an economy with a population undergoing the demographic transformation.”
The bottom line is that the United States needs more workers. Growth happens when one of two things occurs: The economy gets more workers or the existing workers become more productive. At the moment, both of those factors are red flags. Productivity growth is sluggish, and, as Trump has pointed out many times, the percentage of American adults who actually work — the labor-force participation rate — is hovering at the lowest levels since the 1970s.
A big part of the problem is the baby boomers are starting to retire. The United States needs more people to replace them, but the U.S. birthrate just hit a historic low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's why many economists, demographers and business owners keep calling for more immigration, not less.
“Limiting immigration to the U.S. is a grave mistake,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The only way to meaningfully increase U.S. economic growth on a sustained basis anytime soon is to increase immigration.” During the campaign, Zandi predicted that Trump's protectionist stances on trade and immigration would lead to a “lengthy recession.”
Trump portrays immigrants as scooping up American jobs. But the data appears to tell a different story.
U.S. unemployment is at 4.4 percent. In May, unemployment hit the lowest level since 2001, a milestone Trump celebrated. That implies there aren't many people struggling to find work. At the same time, the United States has 5.7 million job openings, which is near a record high. It's been that way for a year now. Business leaders with big and small firms say they can't find enough workers. They are especially vocal about not being able to find enough people for really low-skilled, low-pay work and for really high-skilled jobs.
Trump is already heeding the calls for more lower-skilled workers. His administration recently bumped up visas for seasonal foreign workers by 15,000, a 45 percent increase from last year.
There is growing support for moving the United States to a more merit-based immigration system. The idea is to attract more of the immigrant workers that the country desperately needs. At the moment, only 15 percent of green cards are issued for employment reasons, according to Department of Homeland Security data.
“There is a case for adopting a Canada-style system of 'points' whereby preference is given to people with desired skills,” said Martin Barnes, chief economist at BCA Research in Montreal.
The vast majority of legal immigrants are entering the country because they are relatives of someone already in the United States. It's known as “chain immigration,” and the RAISE Act wants to limit that substantially so only spouses and children could come with a visa holder, not more-extended relatives.
From an economic standpoint, the key is to get more workers with the desired skills into the country. It's why the tech community is lobbying so hard for more H-1B visas. Immigrants also tend to start more businesses. While start-up founders in Silicon Valley are glorified, the reality is business formation in the United States is near a 40-year low. That worries Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust.
“Countries that get collectively older are granted fewer patents, start fewer small businesses and take fewer risks with capital,” Tannenbaum said. All of that hurts economic growth.
Heather Long is an economics correspondent. Prior to joining Wonkblog, she was a senior economics reporter at CNN and a columnist and deputy editor at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Follow @byHeatherLong
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See - One year into the FBI's Russia investigation, Mueller is on the Trump money trail - CNNPolitics
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Washington (CNN)Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.
One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.
The increased financial focus hasn't gone unnoticed by Trump, who warned Mueller, via an interview with The New York Times, that his financial dealings were a red line that investigators shouldn't cross. But the order establishing the special counsel makes clear Mueller is authorized to investigate any matters that "arose or may arise directly from the investigation."
In response to this CNN story, the President's attorney, Jay Sekulow, said,
"President's outside counsel has not received any requests for documentation or information about this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment we would object to."
In 2015, the FBI began investigating cyber breaches targeting US political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee.
In the summer of 2016, US intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence, according to current and former US officials briefed on the investigation. James Comey, in his Senate testimony, said the FBI opened an investigation into Trump campaign-Russia connections in July 2016. The strands of the two investigations began to merge.
In the months that followed, investigators turned up intercepted communications appearing to show efforts by Russian operatives to coordinate with Trump associates on damaging Hillary Clinton's election prospects, officials said. CNN has learned those communications included references to campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
A year later, the FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They've combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They've looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.
In recent weeks, investigators have also started looking into the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower and how the White House responded to news of that meeting. The session included Trump Jr., Manafort, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a Russian attorney.
Trump has denied any collusion and maintains that his business empire has "no involvement with Russia" and that he has "no loans, no nothing" from Russia. His lawyers have detailed a few exceptions, including the Miss Universe pageant he held in Moscow and the Florida mansion he sold to a Russian oligarch in 2008. Trump earned more than $100 million from those deals, according to his lawyers.
"This is like any investigation," says one person briefed on the probe. "You start at the core and then move to the periphery. You have to explore the finances. Where this is going is no different from any investigation."
The Mueller Team
Since his appointment in May, Mueller has quietly gathered a team of more than three dozen attorneys, investigators and other staff in a nondescript office in Washington. Officials familiar with the probe describe it as akin to a small US attorney's office, with FBI agents and prosecutors assigned to separate groups looking into various aspects of the investigation.
These include groups of investigators and lawyers focused separately on Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, as well as the investigations focused on Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to a US official briefed on the investigation. Some of the investigators have been pulled from field offices across the country to join the Mueller team in Washington. Others left high-paying jobs at law firms. Many of the investigators have backgrounds in investigating fraud and financial crimes. There are 16 attorneys assigned to the probe, according to a spokesman for Mueller.
The appointment of Mueller as special counsel has drawn the ire of Trump and his loyalists, who claim that the team has conflicts of interest. Trump has tweeted about the "witch hunt" more than a dozen times since Mueller was appointed. Some members of the team previously contributed to Democratic campaigns.
Mueller reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but there's a measure of separation from Justice Department headquarters to keep the probe independent.
CNN has learned some of the investigators involved in the probe are buying liability insurance out of concern they could become targets of lawsuits from those who are being investigated, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. The Justice Department covers legal fees for employees sued in the course of their duties, but some of the lawyers want extra protection.
The Justice Department and special counsel's office both declined to comment on the liability concerns.
Bait and Switch
The possible financial ties between Trump and Russia were part of the concerns for US intelligence and law enforcement officials from the beginning, according to one current law enforcement official and one former US intelligence official.
Over the decades, the Trump real estate business and its financial dealings have come under scrutiny by the FBI and the Justice Department multiple times.
In some cases, the FBI was pursuing others who did business with the Trump organization, including alleged mobsters who controlled key contractors used by many real estate developers in New York during the 1980s. The flow of Russian money in real estate -- and concerns that some buyers were making the purchases to illegally launder money -- had also drawn some attention by US authorities to the Trump business.
The international real estate business is a part of the global economy where foreigners can still use cash with fewer questions asked about the sources of money. Terrorism financing concerns long ago put more stringent rules on banking and other businesses. But the rules are looser in the business of buying and selling high-end real estate, US officials say.
Investigators are looking both at whether financial laws were broken and whether there are any dealings that could put the President or his associates in a compromising position.
"There's always been a concern about his exposure to blackmail in his financial dealings," says the person briefed on the investigation.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that he has no enduring financial ties to Russian interests.
But some of the people who are now under scrutiny by Mueller see a bait and switch. Instead of collusion, many believe the Mueller probe will instead end up being about past financial troubles.
"They launch an investigation into collusion in the election," says one person whose client is among those being scrutinized by the Mueller investigators. "Then they go after people because of old business matters that have nothing to do with collusion."
Even at the FBI, there's a measure of frustration over the investigation.
After a highly contentious year investigating Hillary Clinton's private email servers and being accused of swinging the election against her, the FBI finds itself again where officials tried not to be: amid a politically treacherous investigation that has hobbled a new President.
Worse yet, some FBI officials fear the question of whether there was any criminal coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia may never be answered.
One challenge is that tantalizing pieces of intelligence are missing key links because they did not develop long enough for investigators to determine their significance. These include intercepts monitored by US intelligence that showed suggestions of illegal coordination but nothing overt.
Those missing links mean that the FBI and Mueller's prosecution team may not have enough evidence to bring charges related to possible illegal coordination with a foreign intelligence service. Instead, prosecutors could pursue financial crime charges unrelated to the election.
Investigators also face a big hurdle: those participating in the intercepted communications were foreigners, outside the reach of the FBI, who may be exaggerating or lying about events.
Some FBI officials also blame media coverage dating back to last summer for prompting some communications to cease, and making it more difficult for investigators to monitor the interactions of Russians and campaign associates.
Scrambling to react
By last July when Russian intelligence began releasing troves of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, the FBI had been aware of the DNC intrusion about a year.
Until the stolen emails were weaponized in their release via WikiLeaks and the Russian intelligence's own site DCLeaks, intelligence and law enforcement officials believed the cyber-intrusion was an intelligence-gathering effort, like many of those that occurred before past elections.
Over the next four months, the Obama administration officials and law enforcement and intelligence agencies debated how to respond.
"You had an administration that didn't want to look heavy-handed" in favor of Hillary Clinton, one senior former US official involved in investigation said.
At the White House, Obama officials scrambled last summer for a strategy on how to respond to what they already knew were Russian actions, well before the administration was willing to point the finger publicly.
Michael Daniel, the White House cyber-security coordinator, ordered staff in August to draw up a list of possible retaliatory measures, according to a former administration official briefed on the matter. These included planting malware in Russian infrastructure that could be activated if the Russian actions escalated, according to the former official.
But shortly after Daniel gave the order, White House officials raised other concerns. Top officials including Susan Rice, national security adviser, and Lisa Monaco, homeland security adviser, led efforts by the White House to make sure the government could prevent any move by Russian intelligence to tamper with the voting infrastructure and sow chaos on Election Day.
Daniel, in an interview, declined to discuss specifics about measures considered in response, because much of the information remains classified. But he said one top concern for White House officials was "it not appear we were trying to be partisan in what we were doing."
The partisan concerns were exacerbated by interactions between the White House and congressional leaders. Monaco traveled to Capitol Hill to try to get top leaders of both parties to send a letter to state governors to urge shoring up of their defenses of election infrastructure. But they were rebuffed by Republican leaders, who viewed the request as partisan, according to current and former officials briefed on the discussions.
Daniel told CNN he and his cyber-response group worked quietly, reducing the number of people allowed in meetings to avoid leaks. "We didn't need to do the Russians work for them," Daniel said. "We needed to develop diplomatic options first, and we [put] the other options on the back-burner."
After the election, the Obama administration unveiled a series of measures, including expulsion of diplomats and seizure of Russian diplomatic compounds allegedly used for espionage. The technical staff also released a trove of information on Russian cyber-intrusion techniques and malware that current and former officials say forced the Russians to spend time and money coming up with new methods.
Even before Mueller was appointed, FBI investigators focused on four Trump associates: Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman, Michael Flynn, former national security adviser, Carter Page, cited by Trump as a national security adviser, and Roger Stone, a Trump friend and supporterwho openly engaged with hackers calling themselves Guccifer 2.0, which US intelligence says was an online persona created as a cover for Russian intelligence agents.
The approach to the Manafort and Flynn probes may offer a template for how investigators' focus on possible financial crimes could help gain leverage and cooperation in the investigation.
CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton's election prospects, the US officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.
Manafort faces potential real troubles in the probe, according to current and former officials. Decades of doing business with foreign regimes with reputations for corruption, from the Philippines to Ukraine, had led to messy finances.
The focus now for investigators is whether Manafort was involved in money laundering or tax violations in his business dealings with pro-Russia parties in Ukraine. He's also been drawn into a related investigation of his son-in-law's real estate business dealings, some of which he invested in.
Manafort has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
In response to questions about CNN's reporting, his spokesman, Jason Maloni, says it "is becoming increasingly apparent that there was no collusion between the campaign and the Russian government."
Flynn drew suspicions in late 2016 when US spy agencies collecting the communications of Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak found Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, discussing the subject of US sanctions on Russia. That appeared to contradict White House claimsthat Flynn had not discussed sanctions in his talks with Kislyak.
On January 24, Andrew McCabe, then the deputy FBI director, called Flynn at his White House office. He told the retired lieutenant general that he was sending a couple of FBI agents to discuss a matter with him, according to people familiar with what unfolded. Flynn spoke to McCabe without his lawyer present.
At the FBI, the decision to approach Flynn was debated at the highest levels, including by Comey, according to sources familiar with those discussions. FBI officials considered the visit by agents a "duty to warn" matter, a not-uncommon effort by the FBI to warn a US official that foreign spies may be trying to target them.
The agents asked Flynn about the Kislyak calls, in part out of concern that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail over the content of the conversations. Flynn gave a wobbly explanation of events. He initially denied the sanctions discussions, then later claimed he couldn't remember.
Despite the conflicting accounts, FBI investigators have leaned against seeking charges over the Kislyak discussions. The investigators don't consider Flynn's answers to be intentionally dishonest.
Flynn's lawyers have criticized media reports about his connection to the Russia investigation as peddling "unfounded allegations" and "outrageous claims."
More troublesome for Flynn, investigators have focused on his lobbying work for the Turkish government, which the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief didn't initially disclose as required by law. Flynn's lawyers have since retroactively registered his lobbying.
Page had been the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant since 2014, earlier than had been previously reported, US officials briefed on the probe told CNN.
When information emerged last summer suggesting that the Russians were attempting to cultivate Page as a way to gain an entrée into the Trump campaign, the FBI renewed its interest in him. Initially, FBI counterintelligence investigators saw the campaign as possible victims being targeted by Russian intelligence.
Page denies working with any Russians as part of the Kremlin's election meddling, though he admits interacting with some Russians during the campaign.
Stone denies collusion and says his conversations with Guccifer 2.0, which he since posted online, were innocuous.
CNN's Marshall Cohen contributed to this story.
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